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Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Staff Hearing on “A Review of the Coast Guard’s Search and Rescue Mission” PURPOSE OF THE HEARING The Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation will convene on Wednesday, September 30, 2009, at 10:00 a.m., in room 2167 of the Rayburn House Office Building to review the Coast Guard’s search and rescue (SAR) programs, as well as lessons learned from recent SAR cases. BACKGROUND Prior to 1848, rescues of those in distress at sea were performed through private initiatives. In 1848, Congress enacted the Newell Act, which provided funding for the placement of equipment along the coasts of Massachusetts and New Jersey that could be used to aid mariners in distress. In 1874, Congress adopted legislation to establish formal life-saving stations, life-boat stations, and houses of refuge to aid mariners in distress; the legislation also authorized the Secretary of the Treasury to appoint formal Superintendents at these stations. In 1878, this legislation was expanded to authorize the creation of life-saving stations, life-boat stations, and houses of refuge at specific coastal points. Congress also authorized the appointment of a General Superintendent of the Life-Saving Service (reporting to the Secretary of the Treasury) and authorized the appointment of officers from the Revenue Cutter Service to serve as inspectors assigned to assess the life-saving stations. Life-saving stations were initially staffed with crews at those times of the year when shipwrecks were most likely to occur; as the level of waterborne commerce increased, they were often staffed year-round.
In 1915, the Life-Saving Service and the Revenue Cutter Service were merged to form the modern U.S. Coast Guard. Today, the Coast Guard is a member of the U.S. National Search and Rescue Committee, whose members also include the following Federal entities: Department of Homeland Security (Coast Guard, Federal Emergency Management Agency); Department of Defense (U.S. Air Force); Department of Commerce (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration); Department of Transportation (Federal Aviation Administration); Department of the Interior (National Park Service, U.S. Geologic Survey); Federal Communications Commission; and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
These entities are signatories to the National Search and Rescue Plan of the United States, which was adopted in its current form in 2007. The National Plan guides the coordination of SAR “services to meet domestic needs and international commitments.” 1 The specific implementing guidance outlining the policies and procedures followed by services that participate in the National SAR Plan is provided in a number of supplemental documents produced by those services. The United States maintains a National SAR School, which the Coast Guard and the U.S. Air Force jointly established in 1966. These two services continue to staff the school, which is now located at the Coast Guard Training Center in Yorktown, Virginia. The National SAR Plan designates the Coast Guard as the entity that “develops, establishes, maintains and operates civil SAR resources for the promotion of safety on, under and over international waters and waters subject to United States jurisdiction.” 2 To meet its operational responsibilities, “the Coast Guard maintains SAR facilities on the East, West and Gulf coasts; in Alaska, Hawaii, Guam, and Puerto Rico, as well as on the Great Lakes and inland U.S. waterways.” 3 The Coast Guard’s SAR mission is specifically authorized by 14 U.S.C. § 88, which states, “[i]n order to render aid to distressed persons, vessels, and aircraft on and under the high seas and on and under the waters over which the United States has jurisdiction and in order to render aid to persons and property imperiled by flood, the Coast Guard may: (1) perform any and all acts necessary to rescue and aid persons and protect and save property.” One of the addenda supplementing the National Plan is the “U.S. Coast Guard Addendum to the United States National SAR Supplement,” which guides the Coast Guard’s implementation of its SAR mission. According to the Coast Guard Addendum, the Coast Guard’s SAR program is guided by four objectives: 1. 2.
Minimize loss of life, injury, and property loss and damage in the maritime environment; Minimize crew risk during SAR missions;
National Search and Rescue Plan of the United States (2007) at 1. Id., at 4. 3 Coast Guard Office of Search and Rescue, SAR Mission Statement (2009).
Optimize use of resources in conducting SAR; and Maintain a world leadership position in maritime SAR. 4
The Addendum further states that the “ultimate goal of the Coast Guard’s SAR program is to prevent loss of life in every situation where our actions and performance could possibly be brought to bear.” 5 Importantly, rescue operations “may . . . be performed for the purpose of preventing or mitigating property loss or damage,” but “shall not normally be performed for the purpose of salvage or recovery of property when those actions are not essential to the saving of life.” 6 I. SAR Statistics
The essential benchmark against which the success of the Coast Guard’s SAR operations is measured is lives saved compared to lives in distress (with the term “lives in distress” referring to lives “in peril cause by some extraordinary event . . . beyond the inherent danger of the maritime environment”). 7 According to the Coast Guard’s Fiscal Year 2008 “U.S. Coast Guard Performance Report,” issued in May 2009, the service saved 83.6% of mariners in “imminent danger” in 2008, which was 3.4% below the target of 87%. 8 In 2008, both “the number of cases and the number of lives saved declined” compared to the previous year; in 2007, the Coast Guard conducted 26,940 SAR cases and saved 4,574 lives, while in 2008, the service conducted 24,229 cases and saved 4,044 lives.9 Assessing this data, the Coast Guard has stated that, “[t]he significant drop in cases mirrors closely the economic downturn and may be a result of fewer mariners on the water, including those who would otherwise be available to assist in search and rescue efforts.” 10 Importantly, the Coast Guard’s reported measure of lives saved did not previously reflect “lives unaccounted for,” meaning “persons still missing when Search and Rescue operations cease”. 11 In 2009, the Coast Guard will introduce a new SAR performance measure called “Percent of People Saved from Imminent Danger in the Maritime Environment” that will include “lives unaccounted for” – i.e., people still missing when a SAR operation is ended. The Coast Guard has collected, but did not previously report, data on this measure; these data show that in 2008, when “lives unaccounted for” are included in SAR statistics, the Coast Guard saved 76.8% of individuals in imminent distress. 12 According to statistics compiled by the Coast Guard, 95 percent of SAR cases occur within 20 nautical miles of shore – and only about 10 percent of cases in which the Coast Guard renders
U.S. Coast Guard Addendum to the United States National SAR Supplement (2004), at PPO-3. Id. 6 Id., at PPO-2. 7 Id. 8 U.S. Coast Guard, Fiscal Year 2008 U.S. Coast Guard Performance Report (2009), at 13. 9 Id. 10 Id. 11 Id. 12 Id., at 14.
assistance or conducts a rescue operation involve an active search. 13 Only two percent of cases involve a search that lasts for more than 24 hours. 14 The chart below details the total Coast Guard resource hours expended by the identified type of asset in the conduct of SAR operations for fiscal years 2007 and 2008. Coast Guard SAR Resource Hours SAR Resource Hours Fiscal year Fiscal Year 2007 2008 Aircraft 17,694 19,096 Boats 33,508 33,352 Cutters 9,101 10,265 TOTAL 60,303 62,713 Source: U.S. Coast Guard Resource Type II. Rescue 21
The Coast Guard is currently acquiring the Rescue 21 command, control, and communications system. Rescue 21 is intended to replace the Coast Guard’s National Distress Response System (which was activated in the 1970s) with an upgraded Very High FrequencyFrequency Modulated (VHF-FM) communications system that will improve the service’s ability to locate mariners in distress, coordinate with Federal/State/local first responders, and reduce communication coverage gaps in coastal areas. Rescue 21 has been plagued by a number of cost-overruns; its current acquisition baseline now stands at nearly $1.1 billion and the projected completion date is fiscal year 2017. According to the Coast Guard, Rescue 21 covered 28,016 miles of coastline as of June 1, 2009. 15 Rescue 21 represents a significant enhancement in technology, because it can more quickly plot the location of calls from mariners in distress than previous technologies could; the system can also provide instant replays of distress calls. III. Emergency Phases
There are three emergency phases to a SAR operation; these phases are defined in the Coast Guard Addendum. 1. Uncertainty: The uncertainty phase exists when the Coast Guard has knowledge of a situation that needs to be monitored – or regarding which more information must be gathered – but that does not require a response that involves the mobilization of response assets.
U.S. Coast Guard Addendum to the United States National SAR Supplement (2004), at 3-3. Id. 15 U.S. Coast Guard, Rescue 21 Deployment/Acceptance Schedule (2009).
Alert: The alert phase exists when a person or a watercraft is experiencing a difficulty and may eventually need assistance but is not in immediate danger and is not in need of an immediate response involving response assets. Distress: The distress phase exists when a person or craft is in grave or imminent danger and is in need of immediate assistance from response assets. 16
One of the central challenges that the Coast Guard faces when dealing with any call for assistance from a mariner is determining the extant emergency phase for that case, and thus whether and when response assets should be launched. According to the Addendum, the Coast Guard’s response to a call for assistance involves four key processes: 1. 2. 3. 4. Distress monitoring and communications; Search planning; Search coordination; and Search and rescue operations. 17
Distress monitoring/communications and search planning are conducted within Sector Command Centers; the search coordination function also rests predominantly within the Sector Command Center – but will involve significant input from those assets conducting a search. SAR operations can encompass any of the Coast Guard’s assets, including both air and surface assets. Under current Coast Guard standards, once the decision to launch a SAR operation is made, operational units are to be ready to proceed within 30 minutes of notification of a distress. Operational units are expected to be able to arrive at any location within their area of responsibility (AOR) within two hours (this two-hour standard includes the 30 minutes required to prepare an asset to begin the search and rescue operation). 18 IV. Organization of Sectors
In 2006, the Coast Guard reorganized its various field units – including Marine Safety Offices, Groups, Activities, Vessel Traffic Services, and some Air Stations – into Sector commands. 19 Each Sector exercises authority over an assigned AOR. There are currently 35 Sectors divided among 9 districts – which in turn fall under either the Atlantic Area command or the Pacific Area command. On March 9, 2008, the Coast Guard released Commandant Instruction M5401.6, the Sector Organization Manual, which provides detailed instructions on how Sectors are to be organized. According to this manual, “[t]he organizational architecture of Sectors represents a transformation from a Coast Guard traditionally organized around its operational programs, to one that is organized
U.S. Coast Guard Addendum to the United States National SAR Supplement (2004), at 4-3. Id., at PPO-1. 18 Id., at PPO-4 & 5. 19 U.S. Coast Guard Sector Organizational Manual, COMDTINST M5401.6 (2008) at 1-2.
around the preparedness continuum of prevention, protection, response and recovery with programmatic and functional areas of responsibility embedded as sub-elements.” 20 Sectors are commanded by a Sector Commander – typically an officer with the rank of Captain – who exercises the authorities that correspond to the various operational elements combined into Sectors, typically including serving as Captain of the Port; Federal Maritime Security Coordinator; Federal On-Scene Coordinator (in charge of responding to pollution incidents etc.); Officer in Charge, Marine Inspection; and Search and Rescue Mission Coordinator (SMC). 21 As the SMC, the Sector Commander is specifically responsible for overseeing SAR preparations (including directing SAR-related training exercises), overseeing SAR responses, and making the decision to suspend active SAR searches. 22 Every Sector is required to have three separate departments, which are described below. 23 1. Prevention Department: The Prevention Department is responsible for managing all waterways within the Sector’s AOR (including managing aids-to-navigation); exercising port state control responsibilities; conducting inspections of vessels, port facilities, etc.; ensuring all port-related activities comply with applicable environmental regulations; and investigating marine casualties. Response Department: The Response Department is responsible for planning and executing all SAR cases, responding to oil spills and other environmental pollution incidents, interdicting illegal drugs and migrants, and overseeing response units (including air and surface assets). Logistics Department: The Logistics Department is responsible for overseeing personnelrelated issues, finance, supply, and engineering/facility management tasks.
Regarding SAR missions, the Sector Operations Manual states that the Chief of the Response Department (typically a mid-level officer), is responsible for “[d]irecting the execution of all of the Sector’s SAR,” including “serving as SAR Mission Coordinator (SMC) (if designated by the Sector Commander).” 24 To that end, the Chief of the Response Department (or that person’s designee as applicable) is “responsible for the direction and employment of all assigned Coast Guard response forces” and is required to “[p]rovide on-call assistance and response as needed to all afterhours matters relating to the employment of any response force or sub-unit assigned to the Sector.” 25 Reporting to the Chief of the Response Department and serving on the Department’s staff is the Chief of the Incident Management Division. The responsibilities of that position regarding SAR operations are characterized by the Sector Operations Manual as “[d]irecting and/or
Id., at 1-3. Id., at 1-1, 1-2. 22 Id., at 2-11. 23 Id., at 3-1. 24 Id., at 3-13. 25 Id., at 4-2.
coordinating the execution of all Sector SAR.” 26 (However, at some Sectors, this responsibility is handled by the Sector Command Center Supervisor.) Working under the direction of the Chief of the Incident Management Division are Incident Management Division duty staff members, who are responsible for “[e]xecuting all Sector SAR,” including “[p]reparing for incident response, assessing on-scene situation, initiating action to resolve/mitigate loss of life and/or damage to property, and preparing and submitting reports.” 27 Within each Sector, the Sector Duty Officer on duty at any given time “represents the command in all matters pertaining to the Sector and serves as the Sector Commander’s direct representative after hours, maintaining a 24x7 watch;” this individual “has overall responsibility for the entire watch.” 28 Each Sector maintains a Sector Command Center, which “serves an operations integration and coordination function and is located organizationally to support Response and Prevention Departments equally.” 29 The Command Center is staffed around the clock every day of the year by a command and control watch; the watch “has sole responsibility for monitoring and coordinating all Coast Guard operations across the entire mission spectrum” within the Sector. 30 The provisions of 14 U.S.C. § 676 establish standards for Coast Guard SAR centers. Specifically, this section states that the Coast Guard “shall establish, implement, and maintain the minimum standards necessary for the safe operation of all Coast Guard search and rescue center facilities, including with respect to the following: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. The lighting, acoustics, and temperature in the facilities. The number of individuals on a shift in the facility assigned search and rescue responsibilities (including communications), which may be adjusted based on seasonal workload. The length of time an individual may serve on watch to minimize fatigue, based on the best scientific information available. The scheduling of individuals having search and rescue responsibilities to minimize fatigue of the individual when on duty in the facility. The workload of each individual engaged in search and rescue responsibilities in the facility. Stress management for the individuals assigned search and rescue responsibilities in the facilities. The design of equipment and facilities to minimize fatigue and enhance search and rescue operations. The acquisition and maintenance of interim search and rescue command center communications equipment. Any other requirements that the Secretary believes will increase the safe operation of the search and rescue centers.”
The Sector Organization Manual prescribes the specific titles that are used in the watchstanding positions and outlines the positions that may be created; the Manual also provides
Id., at 3-16. Id., at 3-17. 28 Id., at 4-2. 29 Id., at 2-21. 30 Id., at 4-3.
“general descriptions of the duties and responsibilities of each watch position.” 31 Importantly, however, each Sector Commander has the discretion to staff the Command Center watch with those specific positions that the Sector Commander feels are necessary to keep the watch in that Sector. Thus, the Sector Organization Manual states, “[d]ue to varying sizes, staffing, mission requirements, and local conditions of individual Sectors, Sector Commanders shall use their discretion to determine the watch positions needed for their Sectors.” 32 Sector Commanders must also “promulgate unit instructions outlining the specific policies, procedures, and watch routine for their Sector.” 33 As a result of the discretion allowed to Sector Commanders and the unique circumstances of the AORs served by each Sector, there is some variation in how the Sector Command Centers are staffed and supervised. Each Sector must meet performance standards, and each person assigned to stand watch as a SAR controller must be fully qualified as a SAR controller; however, some supervisory position titles and responsibilities can vary among Sectors. Within every Sector Command Center, there are two basic positions with which every Command Center is staffed: 1. Communications Unit (CU): The Communications Unit position is typically a single watchstander position responsible for monitoring all communications between the Coast Guard and mariners, including receiving calls for assistance from mariners. Individuals in this position must be qualified to stand this watch. This position is typically staffed with E4s or E5s (3rd or 2nd class Petty Officers, respectively). Operations Unit (OU): The Operations Unit position is “responsible for coordinating or supervising the command and control aspects of all Coast Guard and interagency operations including, but not limited to SAR, Maritime Law Enforcement (MLE), Marine Environmental Response (MER), and Ports, Waterways, and Coastal Security (PCWS) missions.” 34 Individuals in this position must be qualified to stand this watch – and must have completed the SAR controller qualification. This position is typically staffed by E5s or E6s (2nd or 1st class Petty Officers, respectively); each Sector also typically has two civilian employees assigned to stand OU watches (who are generally retired Coast Guard SAR controllers). 35 Sector Command Centers may also have a third watchstanding position. 3. Situation Unit (SU): The Situation Unit position is responsible for “supervising the command and control aspects of active waterways management and monitoring functions.” 36 This watch position is typically staffed by E5s or E6s (2nd or 1st class Petty Officers, respectively) or trained civilians. Individuals standing this watch are required to be qualified for this watch, but are not required to have the SAR controller qualification.
Id., at 4-1. Id. 33 Id. 34 Id., at 4-4. 35 Id. 36 Id.
Sectors that have a particularly heavy caseload of SAR or law enforcement incidents can add multiple CU, OU, or SU positions as needed – either on a full-time basis or as a “surge” to meet a temporary caseload increase. The Coast Guard requires that those who stand watches and perform the OU, SU, and CU functions be qualified in those functions; the required qualifications vary by position. Typically, individuals enter the Command Center in the CU position, and then move up to the SU position, and finally to the OU position as they complete the training required for these positions and advance in seniority. These positions are structured to create a “career path” through the Command Center for enlisted personnel in the Operations Specialist rating. Anyone standing the OU watch must be qualified as a SAR controller. To obtain that qualification, the person must attend the National SAR School and complete extensive on-the-job training. 37 The Coast Guard Addendum requires that all SAR units “implement a formal program to qualify members of the command that are part of the SAR system.” 38 Throughout their on-the-job training period, trainees complete an extensive checklist to show that they have mastered a variety of specific skills that are part of the SAR management process (mastery of each required skill is confirmed by a qualified controller involved in the training process). Trainees are then formally examined by a “qualification board,” which typically consists of senior Command Center leadership and other qualified SAR controllers. Only individuals who have successfully passed the qualification board and been granted the SAR controller qualification can stand the SAR controller watch. 39 To maintain qualifications, a SAR controller must stand at least two watches per month; controllers must also demonstrate proficiency by completing an on-line problem set on an annual basis. 40 Additionally, the Coast Guard Addendum states that the “SAR Program encourages, and would like to see, initially certified SAR Controllers and Assistant Controllers return to Search Planning and Coordination and SAR Program assignments throughout their careers.” 41 Reservists rarely maintain the qualifications needed to stand the OU watch. Members of the Coast Guard Reserve are required to drill two weekends per month and two weeks per year. The Coast Guard has indicated that Reservists’ training periods are focused on ensuring that they have the qualifications they need to be deployable, rather than on maintaining specific Coast Guard job function qualifications. The chart below identifies the number of Reservists who hold the qualifications required to stand the OU and CU watches.
U.S. Coast Guard Addendum, at PPO-5. Id., at 1-15. 39 Id. 40 Id., at 1-17. 41 Id.
SAR Qualified Reservists as of 21 August, 2009 Reservist Operations Qualification Unit Districts 0 Sectors 6 TOTAL 6 Source: U.S. Coast Guard Communications Unit 0 30 30 Total SAR Qualified Reservists 0 36 36
As to hours of service, 14 U.S.C. § 676 includes a sense of Congress that states, “[i]t is the sense of the Congress that the Secretary should establish, implement, and maintain minimum standards necessary to ensure that an individual on duty or watch in a Coast Guard search and rescue command center facility does not work more than 12 hours in a 24-hour period, except in an emergency or unforeseen circumstance.” Further, the section requires the Coast Guard to report to the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure on a quarterly basis whether the hours-ofservice recommendations provided in the sense of Congress have been met at each SAR facility. The Coast Guard has implemented this section to apply to the three watchstander positions identified above (CU, OU, and SU). In a report dated July 2, 2009, the Coast Guard reported that during the third quarter of fiscal year 2009, all SAR facilities met the 12-hour watch policy throughout the entire quarter for these positions. The Coast Guard has indicated to the Subcommittee that there is no policy specifying the number of watches one watchstander keeping 12-hour watches may perform during the course of a week or a month. Rather, the service indicates that the number of watches will vary based on the number of qualified personnel available to stand the watch positions. At the Sector level, the Coast Guard’s policy is to assign six watchstander billets plus one supervisor billet for each of the CU and OU positions. Typically, of the six individuals assigned to the OU billets, four will have the SAR controller qualification, while two will be training to achieve the controller qualification. However, the mix of qualified and unqualified personnel assigned to these billets will fluctuate given seasonal transfers. When an SU position is assigned at a Command Center, the “six plus one” staffing pattern is the ideal, but is not always achieved given constraints on the availability of personnel and other service needs. The enlisted personnel who fill the OU, SU, and CU positions serve in the Operations Specialist (OS) rating. The OS rating was introduced on July 1, 2003. 42 Previously, the Command Centers were staffed by enlisted personnel in the Boatswains Mate (BM) and Quartermasters Mate (QM) ratings (which were merged into the BM rating in 2002) or, less frequently, by radio or telecommunications specialists. The BMs and QMs typically came to the Command Centers with experience operating small boats (as coxswains or boat crew members); through these experiences, they conducted actual searches and rescued mariners in distress and developed extensive familiarity with local areas of operation (including water conditions and local geography). 43 However, BMs and QMs assigned to the Command Centers typically served only one or two tours at the Command
OSCM Richard Hughes, Dawn of a New Era: The Operations Specialists commence taking of the Group Operations Center Watches, Coast Guard SAR Magazine, (2003) at 4. 43 Id.
Centers and then returned to cutters or small boat operations where they served the majority of their careers. Individuals in the OS rate do not typically serve in small boat operations (unless they have brief tours at a small boat station before beginning a career in the OS rating); their tours outside the Sector Command Centers typically involve standing watches in Command Centers on cutters or at Vessel Traffic Service centers (or similar facilities). 44 As OSs transfer from one Sector to another Sector, they are required to attain and demonstrate familiarity with the AOR of the new Sector before they can stand the watch in that Sector. However, the standardization of the watchstanding positions and of the qualifications required of each individual assigned to a watchstanding position is intended to ensure that OSs can move into a new Sector Command Center and immediately understand its operations and practices. Hour-to-hour supervision of the watchstanders and of the conduct of SAR operations can vary among Sectors. Some Sectors have the position of Command Duty Officer (CDO) which would be a fourth watchstander position as envisioned in the organization of Sector Command Centers (albeit not every Sector has a DO). Typically, Sectors that have billeted CDO positions are assigned four military officers and one civilian to fill these positions. Personnel assigned to billeted CDO positions are SAR qualified and have the CDO position as their primary duty. Other Sectors have created the CDO position as a function at their Sector but do not have billeted positions assigned to this function. Individuals who perform the CDO function at those Sectors in which the position is not a permanent billet generally have the CDO function as a collateral duty – meaning that their actual billet assignment at the Sector is in some other position and in addition to completing those assigned duties, they also stand a watch as a CDO. Individuals who perform the CDO function as a collateral duty do not necessarily have the SAR controller qualification; if the individual fulfilling the CDO function is not SAR qualified, the individual will be briefed about SAR issues but will not be in the chain of command making decisions about the prosecution of SAR cases. According to the Coast Guard, in the Atlantic Area, there are 79 individuals who have the CDO position as their primary billet and 119 individuals who perform the CDO function as a collateral duty (albeit these numbers are in constant flux due to transfers and etc.). The Coast Guard further indicates that 31 of the primary CDOs are assigned to permanent District Command Center billets, while 21 of the primary CDOs are assigned to permanent Sector Command Center billets. The remaining 27 primary CDOs have been temporarily assigned away from other duties to a primary CDO duty at the discretion of individual Sector Commanders. Other Sectors have created the Response Duty Officer (RDO) position to supervise the hour-to-hour operations of the Command Center and oversee the management of SAR cases. In Sectors that have this position, the Command Center Supervisor typically performs this function; the function may also be performed by a Senior SAR controller (OU position), who is at the (enlisted) rank of Chief Petty Officer or above. The CDO and RDO positions are not considered “alert” watchstander positions; instead, they are considered “duty” watchstander positions. Alert positions are those watchstander positions limited to 12-hour shifts (e.g., OU, SU, CU). Duty watches may be 24 hours in length – and
individuals who keep these watches may sleep during some of the watch period. CDOs will typically be in or near the Sector Command Center at all times (even if asleep); RDOs may advise on SAR cases from home during off-duty hours. As with the alert watchstander positions, there is no Coast Guard policy specifying how many duty watches a person may perform during the course of a week or a month; the number of watches to which a person is assigned will vary depending on the number of qualified personnel available to stand the watch. The daily operations of each Sector Command Center are directly supervised by a Sector Command Center Chief/Supervisor; this position is typically filled by a junior or mid-level officer. Individuals assigned to this position must meet the qualifications required to stand the SAR controller (OU) watch. 45 The responsibilities of this position include supervising the watchstanders and maintaining operational command and control. The Sector Command Center Chief also ensures that the Sector Command Center “dispatches, monitors, and tasks all assigned resources” to conduct all prevention and response missions, including SAR cases. 46 The SAR Chain of Command – which can involve many different positions – is depicted in the chart below.
U.S. Coast Guard Addendum to the United States National SAR Supplement, (2004) at 1-16. U.S. Coast Guard Sector Organizational Manual, (2008), at 2-21.
Coast Guard SAR Chain of Command
SAR Coordinator (District Commander)
District (Chief of Response/Chief of Incident Management)
Rescue Coordination Center/District Command Center
Sector Response Chief
Command Duty Officer* Command Center Chief/Supervisor SAR Mission Coordinator
(Sector Command Center watch)
Chain of command Briefing, resource coordination, advice
* Presence and qualifications of the CDO watch and position in the SAR chain of command vary by Sector.
Source: U.S. Coast Guard To enable the Coast Guard to evaluate the performance of Command Center personnel, the service has created the Command Center Standardization Team (CCST), which conducts periodic site visits at Command Centers throughout the Coast Guard to ensure that personnel assigned to each Command Center meet all qualification standards and that each Command Center is being managed according to applicable policy and instructions. The CCSTs also assess the proficiency of the Command Centers in managing SAR cases and are responsible for “disseminat[ing] new
standard procedures, techniques, and solutions to common problems encountered relating to SAR planning and coordination in operations centers.” 47 V. SAR Case Studies and SAR Administrative Investigations
To ensure that it can document and disseminate lessons learned as appropriate, the Coast Guard develops formal case studies on some SAR cases. The Coast Guard Addendum indicates that these case studies “are to be used primarily as a means of improving the SAR system.” 48 Case studies are required by Coast Guard policy to be conducted whenever: Survivors are found inside the search area, after a search has been suspended; Survivors are found by someone not involved in the search, outside the search area; or As directed by the Commandant or other authority in the chain of command. 49
The Addendum also notes that case studies should be conducted “whenever a SAR coordinator believes there may be benefit to the SAR System to share lessons learned and best practices.” 50 The Addendum indicates that if the case study develops recommendations with “Coast Guard wide, national or international SAR system implications,” the study should be “routed via the chain of command to Commandant . . . for action;” if the case study develops recommendations relevant to a unit, Sector, or District, it should be routed to the command structure for those entities. 51 The National SAR School should also receive a copy of each case study. The Coast Guard also periodically convenes administrative investigations of specific SAR cases. According to the Administrative Investigations Manual, COMDTINST M5830.1A, such investigations are “fact-finding bodies that are necessary or desirable in administering the Coast Guard, but are not specifically authorized or required by law or other regulations, such as the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the Code of Federal Regulations, or other Commandant instructions.” 52 There are certain incidents that are required by the Administrative Investigations Manual to be investigated, including ship collisions, groundings, fires, and etc. involving Coast Guard vessels, environmental violations involving Coast Guard personnel or installations, and the death of Coast Guard personnel on active duty. 53 Other incidents can be investigated at the discretion of senior Coast Guard leadership, including, “[a]ny incidents involving unusually high levels of public, media or governmental interest in, or criticism of, the Coast Guard’s actions.” 54
U.S. Coast Guard Addendum, at 1-17 and 1-18. Id., at 3-51. 49 Id., at 3-50. 50 Id. 51 Id. 52 U.S. Coast Guard, Administrative Investigations Manual, (2007) at 1. 53 Id., at 21 and 2-2. 54 Id., at 2-5.
Each year, the Coast Guard spends hundreds of thousands of dollars responding to distress calls that are hoaxes. Responding to false distress calls interferes with the Coast Guard’s response to legitimate SAR cases and places Coast Guard personnel, and other local, State, and Federal responders at risk. It costs the Coast Guard more than $4,000 an hour to fly an aircraft, more than $1,500 an hour to operate a cutter, and $300 to $400 an hour to operate small boats. 55 If these assets are launched in response to a hoax, the costs associated with their operations are wasted expenditures. According to the Coast Guard, from October 2008 to April 2009, 15 percent of the 114 rescue cases handled by just one Sector – Coast Guard Sector Baltimore – were probable hoaxes. 56 The most common types of hoax sources include boaters trying to obtain a radio check as “mayday” calls receive instant feedback from the Coast Guard and/or other concerned boaters and unsupervised children improperly using or accidental activating an automatic SOS feature on VHF marine band radios. If a child is found to have made a false distress call, the parents or guardians are typically held responsible. Per 14 U.S.C. § 88(c), it is a felony, under Federal law, to knowingly and willfully make false distress calls. VII. Recent SAR Cases
Presented below are brief reviews of two recent SAR cases that were the subjects of Coast Guard administrative investigations. FISHING VESSEL Buona Madre The Coast Guard convened a board of investigation to examine the collision of the Motor Vessel (M/V) Eva Danielsen and the Fishing Vessel (F/V) Buona Madre that occurred on July 13, 2007. The Coast Guard’s Final Action Memorandum on this case was issued on November 4, 2008, and was signed by Rear Admiral Paul F. Zukunft, commander of the Coast Guard’s 11th District. According to the Memorandum, at 5:12 p.m. Pacific Standard Time, the Coast Guard’s Vessel Traffic System (VTS) in San Francisco received a call from the master of the Eva Danielsen indicating that the vessel may have collided with a fishing vessel. According to the Memorandum, the VTS supervisor “immediately relayed the collision report to the Sector San Francisco Command Center.” 57 The Eva Danielsen had made passing arrangements with the fishing vessel Marja shortly before 5:00 p.m. Eva Danielsen’s crew initially believed and reported to the VTS that it had collided with this vessel; importantly, Eva Danielsen incorrectly reported the name of the vessel as “Martha” when in fact it was Marja.
U.S. Coast Guard Press Release, Hoax Distress Calls Cost Lives, Resources (2009). Id. 57 U.S. Coast Guard, Final Action on Board of Investigation of Coast Guard Response to the Collision of F/V Buona Madre and the M/V Eva Danielsen (2008), at 1.
The VTS began conducting callouts for the Martha – and then “queried the Eva Danielsen and the fishing community to determine whether there were any other vessels in the area.” 58 The Sector San Francisco Command Center notified Air Station San Francisco of the possible collision and instructed the Station to prepare to conduct SAR operations. During continued discussion with the master of the Eva Danielsen, the VTS determined that the master had not been on the bridge at the time that he believed the vessel collided with the fishing boat. Subsequent marine broadcasts by VTS were answered by an unknown fishing vessel indicating that Marja might be the correct name of the vessel sought by VTS. The fishing vessel Marja itself then contacted VTS and confirmed it had successfully implemented passing arrangements with the Eva Danielsen. The VTS continued its discussions with the Eva Danielsen, and learned from the vessel that it could not find any damage on its hull and did not experience a shudder or other motion indicating that a collision may have occurred; VTS relayed this information to the San Francisco Sector Command Center. VTS also continued discussions with the Marja, which reported that another fishing vessel called Rogue had been in the area. At 5:36 p.m., a motor lifeboat from Coast Guard Station Bodega Bay got underway in the direction of the reported possible collision. At 5:41 p.m., an unidentified fishing vessel confirmed contact with the Rogue and reported that the vessel had not been involved in a collision. 59 The report indicates that at this point, the “master of the Eva Danielsen then told VTS that it looked like everybody was fine and that they probably just rang a ‘false alarm.’ He reiterated that he felt no shudder and found no traces of paint on Eva Danielsen’s hull.” 60 The fishing vessel Marja also “agreed that they thought it was a false alarm and that everybody was fine.”61 The Sector Duty Officer at Coast Guard Sector San Francisco then “concluded, with the concurrence of VTS and SCC [Sector Command Center] watch personnel, that no collision had occurred” and “stood down the Air Station and informed the SCC Supervisor that Marja had been located along with two other fishing vessels in the area;” the Sector Command Center Supervisor “concurred with standing down the responding units.” 62 The assets that had been alerted to the possible need to respond to this collision were stood down between 5:46 p.m. and 5:50 p.m. 63 Unbeknownst to the Coast Guard at the time the decision to stand down this SAR effort was made, the fishing vessel Buona Madre – a 28-foot wooden-hull vessel – operated by Mr. Paul Wade had in fact collided with the Eva Danielsen. The discovery of his body in the water was reported to Station Bodega Bay at 8:39 a.m. on the morning of July 14, 2007. 64 The autopsy conducted on Mr. Wade’s body identifies the cause of death as “‘Drowning (minutes)’.” 65 The Coast Guard Memorandum indicates that “[w]hile the circumstances surrounding Mr. Wade’s death
Id., at 2. Id., at 3. 60 Id. 61 Id. 62 Id. 63 Id. 64 Id., at 4. 65 Id.
are uncertain, he almost certainly survived the initial collision as the manually-activated light on his life jacket was still illuminated.” 66 Modeling data developed by the Coast Guard indicate that in the weather conditions he experienced and wearing the apparel he had on, a person of Mr. Wade’s size “could have been expected to survive up to 6.9 hours in the water, presuming no other injury.” 67 The Coast Guard Memorandum indicates that the “premature and incorrect conclusion” that no collision had occurred “limited further investigation that might have resulted in earlier discovery of Mr. Wade or debris from Buona Madre.” 68 The Memorandum goes on to identify several shortcomings in the Coast Guard’s response to this case. Thus, the Memorandum states that, “[e]ven with misleading information, the timeliness of the SCC’s [Sector Command Center] initial response actions fell short of meeting the Search and Rescue (SAR) policy standards expected for distress or potential distress incidents.” 69 Thus, the Memorandum notes that Coast Guard personnel failed to “‘appropriately respond without delay to any notification of distress, even if suspected to be a false alert or hoax’” as required by the SAR Addendum. 70 Additionally, the Sector San Francisco Command Center watchstanders inappropriately relied on the VTS personnel “to conduct an in-depth inquiry before initiating a response, rather than recognizing the potential SAR aspects of the case and assuming control of the on scene investigation”; similarly, the Sector Command Center personnel called off the search on the basis of the information gathered by VTS personnel indicating that a collision had not occurred and therefore there was no one in need of assistance. 71 The Memorandum indicates that Coast Guard personnel in the Sector San Francisco Command Center failed to properly brief other personnel. Specifically, the Command Center staff failed to properly brief the Chief of the Sector’s Response Department as required by the Sector’s Standard Operating Procedure; Sector Command Center personnel also failed to alert the Sector’s Prevention Department to a possible collision. The Memorandum also notes that the Sector Command Center personnel should have directly queried the Eva Danielsen personnel on the bridge at the time the collision was believed to have occurred – rather than leaving the VTS personnel to gather information from the Eva Danielsen’s master, who was in turn relaying information provided to him by the second mate (who was on the bridge at the time of the incident). 72 Finally, the Memorandum indicates that – as per standard Coast Guard policy – the Sector Duty Officer “acted without authority when she concluded that no collision had occurred and stood down the Air Station” and other units; the authority to make such a decision rests solely with the Sector Commander. 73 The Memorandum indicates that had all assets that were alerted to the possible need to respond to this incident continued to the scene of the collision at the time they were stood down, the nearest asset was about 34 minutes away. 74 The Memorandum indicates that given the time of
Id. Id. 68 Id., at 5. 69 Id. 70 Id. 71 Id. 72 Id., at 6. 73 Id. 74 Id., at 3.
sunset that day, there would have been “just over 2 hours of daylight for a search by the earliest arriving units” had they been dispatched to the scene. 75 The Coast Guard Memorandum lists a number of remedial actions implemented by Sector San Francisco and the 11th District following the Buona Madre incident. The Memorandum also lists a number of actions ordered by Commander of the 11th District. These remedial actions are listed below: Actions taken by the District and Sector Conduct of all-hands training to “reiterate guidelines for assuming control of a case” and to ensure personnel were aware of the “Sector Commander’s sole authority to stand down SAR units;” Cross-training of Command Center watchstanders in all Command Center positions; Institution of a requirement for all Command Center personnel “to read and acknowledge the recently updated U.S. Coast Guard Command Center Manual;” Promulgation of a standard format for the briefing of SAR cases “requiring the briefer to include concurrence or other recommendations from senior staff and watchstanders;” Issuance of instructions for Sector Duty Officers to use a “Passdown Log” for all cases; and Issuance of a proposal that the San Francisco VTS add remote radar sites at Point Reyes and Pillar Point (endorsed by the 11th District). 76 Actions Ordered by the District Commander for the 11th District (and all Sectors and units within that District) Examine feasibility of co-locating the VTS and the Sector Command Center; Provide basic SAR training to VTS operators; Establish a method to allow for retrieval of .wav files in the VTS and Command Center; Evaluate the development of a proactive protocol for notifying Vessel Movement Reporting System users of areas of fishing vessel activity; Establish a process through which the Sector Command Center could transmit, receive, and monitor radio traffic on VTS-specific channels; Utilize conference calls or “virtual briefs” to speed the briefing process among the Command Cadre and to ensure that accurate information is conveyed; and Modify Sector San Francisco standard operating procedures to ensure they are consistent with 11th District procedures regarding the handling of distress information. The Memorandum notes that “Sector policy discusses using all investigatory tools upon receiving an initial report whereas District policy places proper emphasis on obtaining only the most critical information before dispatching resources and notifying the vessel in distress of Coast Guard response actions.” 77
Id., at 4. Id., at 7. 77 Id.
The Coast Guard also completed a casualty report on the Buona Madre incident, which included additional information about the incident as well as recommendations for enforcement actions for violations of navigation and safety rules. According to information provided by the Coast Guard to the Subcommittee, the casualty investigation into the Buona Madre/Eva Danielsen collision was initiated at approximately 12:15 p.m. local time on July 14, 2007 (i.e., shortly after Mr. Wade’s body was found in the water). However, the Eva Danielsen was not boarded by casualty investigators until 10:45 p.m. local time on July 16, 2007 – i.e., after the vessel arrived in Portland, Oregon. There were two units involved in the casualty investigation, including four investigators from Sector San Francisco (one of whom was a fully qualified Investigating Officer [IO] and three of whom were IOs in training) and one investigator from Sector Portland, who was a fully qualified IO. The casualty report indicates that “[b]ased upon this investigation, it appears that the M/V Eva Danielsen failed to comply with Navigational Rule 5 (failure to post a lookout [sic.], Rule 6 (Safe speed), Rule 7 (Risk of collision), Rule 19 (Conduct of Vessels in Restricted Visibility), and Rule 35 (Sound Signals in Restricted Visibility).” 78 As a result of the investigation into the Buona Madre incident, the Report indicates that the Coast Guard referred a civil penalty enforcement action against K/S Aries Shipping for violations of 46 U.S.C. § 2302(a), 33 U.S.C. § 1602 (Rule 5 bridge operations-shiphandling) and 33 U.S.C. § 1602 (Rule 7 collision). 79 The casualty report on the Buona Madre also states, “[t]he Master of the Eva Danielsen was accountable from when the pilot arrived on board on July 13th until the vessel departed for Portland, OR. The prior time can not be accounted for due to the fact that during the preliminary investigation the 96 hour Work-Rest History was not looked into and when the informal investigation commenced, both parties had obtained legal counsel which precluded this information from being obtained.” 80 Nonetheless, the report does indicate that “[t]he 2nd Mate had a work/rest history log sheet for the month of July entered by the Master who had falsified official documents of the vessel.” 81 Following the casualty investigation, Sector San Francisco developed a civil penalty case against K/S Aries Shipping – the Eva Danielsen’s operating company – seeking a total civil penalty of $55,000. This case was “dismissed without prejudice” by a Coast Guard Hearing Officer after review of the enforcement case presented by the Coast Guard, and was returned to Sector San Francisco in November 2008. According to the Coast Guard, the Sector has the option of further developing the enforcement case to overcome any shortcomings that led to the dismissal of the case by the Hearing Officer. The casualty report further notes that “Mr. Wade operated the F/V Buona Madre alone on the day of the incident. It is unknown if he sounded fog signals, but it is believed that as sole person onboard, he would have had difficulty maneuvering the vessel, maintaining a proper lookout and sounding fog signals in reduced visibility, using all means possible for safe navigation (i.e.
78 U.S. Coast Guard, Report of the Investigation Into the Circumstances Surrounding the Incident involving the F/V Buona Madre and the M/V Eva Danielsen/Collision/[WORD BLACKED OUT] On 7/13/2007, (2007) at 3. 79 Id., at 54. 80 Id., at 25. 81 Id.
monitoring VHF radio traffic and monitoring the radio), and potentially be engaged in commercial fisheries all at the same time” [sic.]. 82 Currently, under 46 C.F.R. § 25.26-5, fishing vessels less than 36 feet in length (as the Buona Madre was) operating on the high seas are allowed to carry either a manually activated Emergency Position-indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) or a float-free EPIRB (which activates itself upon contact with the water if a vessel sinks). Vessels that are 36 feet or more in length must carry a selfactivating EPIRB. The Report on the Buona Madre recommended that “Commandant should make a regulatory change to 46 C.F.R. 25.26-5” to require that commercial fishing vessels less than 36 feet in length carry only the automatically activated (free-float) EPIRB because these vessels “are at least as likely to suffer catastrophic damage and rapid sinking as the larger vessels.” 83 The Coast Guard has indicated that the Sector Duty Officer on duty at the time of the Buona Madre incident had been qualified for six months and was a member of the SAR Chain of Command. The person filling the Sector Duty Officer position had that position as a collateral responsibility. The individual’s primary duty assignment at the time of the Buona Madre was as Assistant Chief, Incident Management Division – a position that has oversight of SAR as a primary responsibility. FISHING VESSEL Patriot The Coast Guard conducted an administrative investigation of the circumstances surrounding its response to the case of the F/V Patriot. This investigation was concluded with a Final Action Memorandum dated June 11, 2009. The Memorandum was signed by Vice Admiral Robert J. Papp, Commander of the Atlantic Area. The Memorandum includes the results of a case study that was being conducted by the Coast Guard on the Patriot case; although the case study was not finalized, the Memorandum indicates it was provided as an enclosure “to ensure transparency in light of the extraordinary circumstances of this case.” 84 According to information reported by the Coast Guard in the Final Action Memorandum, the F/V Patriot sank approximately 14 nautical miles off the coast of Gloucester, Massachusetts, with two persons on board between 1:17 a.m. and 1:30 a.m. on January 3, 2009. 85 At approximately 1:17 a.m. on the morning of January 3, 2007, the fire alarm on the Patriot activated and alerted the alarm company, Wayne Alarm Systems. At the time, the vessel was on a fishing voyage. Wayne Alarm, unaware that the vessel was on a fishing voyage, dispatched the fire department to the Patriot’s home pier – but the vessel could not be located there. When Wayne Alarm was notified that the vessel could not be found, the company called the contact number for the vessel and reached Ms. Josie Russo and informed her of the situation. Ms. Russo’s husband (Matteo Russo) and her father (John Orlando) were underway on the vessel at the time.
Id., at 27. U.S. Coast Guard, Report of the Investigation Into the Circumstances Surrounding the Incident involving the F/V Buona Madre and the M/V Eva Danielsen/Collision/[WORD BLACKED OUT] On 7/13/2007 (2007), at 5. 84 Coast Guard, Final Action on Administrative Investigation of the Coast Guard Response to the Sinking of the F/V Patriot that Occurred on 3 January 2009 (2009), at 2. 85 Id. at 1.
At 1:35 a.m., 20 minutes after the notification to Wayne Alarm of the activation of the fire alarm, Ms. Russo called Coast Guard Station Gloucester to report the firm alarm on the Patriot, which she indicated was underway, and was expected to return later on the morning of January 3. The Coast Guard Memorandum indicates that Ms. Russo did not mention that the fire department had responded and had been unable to locate the vessel. The Coast Guard Memorandum also indicates that this initial call was fielded by a Seaman at the Station, who did not recognize the call as concerning a possible SAR case and “did not use an Initial SAR Check Sheet to obtain reporting source information.” 86 Five minutes after receiving the initial call, the Seaman notified the Station’s Officer of the Day, a Second Class Boatswains Mate, who attempted but failed to established contact with the Patriot on a VHF-FM radio (albeit it was later determined that this radio did not have the capability of transmitting to the location where the Patriot sank). 87 The Memorandum notes that while the fire alarm system had activated, no mayday calls were received and no EPIRB on the vessel had transmitted a distress signal. 88 At this point, the Memorandum indicates that “Station Gloucester personnel continued to investigate, attempting to resolve the ambiguity of the situation.” 89 The Station Officer of the Day dispatched two Station personnel to check piers in Gloucester for the vessel; these pier-side searches continued for one and a half hours. At 1:50 a.m., Station Gloucester contacted the OU Controller at Sector Boston about the situation. Sector Boston attempted to track the Patriot using the Vessel Monitoring System maintained by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and used to track commercial fishing vessels but was unable to log in to the system and requested the data from the First District; at the time the Sector requested the data from the District, the Sector provided the first notification to the District about the Patriot’s situation. 90 Believing that “the Station was gathering the pertinent information outlined in the Initial SAR Check Sheet,” the Sector OU also “did not use an Initial SAR Check Sheet in obtaining the information from the Station.” 91 It took 10 minutes for the District to provide to Sector Boston the Vessel Monitoring System data on Patriot, which had recorded the last available position data on the vessel at 12:30 a.m. Sector Boston began plotting the Patriot’s position based on that available data – and, believing the case had moved from the Uncertainty to the Alert phase, at 2:40 a.m., initiated radio call-outs for the Patriot. The District SU had already asked the company servicing the Patriot’s Vessel Monitoring System to email the vessel. During this period, Station Gloucester, Sector Boston, and the First District were all attempting to contact or locate the Patriot. Unaware that Station Gloucester had contact with Ms. Russo – the Patriot’s co-owner – Sector Boston also spent 15 minutes trying to locate the Patriot’s owner (even calling the individual who had sold the vessel to the Russo family). Discussion was also
Id., at 3. Id. 88 Id. 89 Id. 90 Id., at 4. 91 Id.
held about the fact that the last known position was more than two hours old. Ms. Russo was eventually contacted by Sector Boston’s OU Controller (OUC); she informed the Sector that the burglar alarm on Patriot had activated the day before and also that her husband’s cell phone was going straight to voice mail which was unusual for him. At this point, Sector Boston’s OUC “did not believe he had a reasonable search area to allow for the launching of Search and Rescue Units,” but the District SUC “stated he believed they did have a reasonable search area and that Sector Boston should consider launching an aircraft from Air Station Cape Cod.” 92 However, the “Sector Boston OUC stated he wanted to make a few more phone calls prior to directing a launch.” 93 At 3:17 a.m., the Sector issued an Urgent Marine Information Broadcast. The Memorandum indicates that “Sector Boston OUC still did not believe the case had moved into the distress phase because there was no indication that the vessel was in distress.” 94 Between 3:30 a.m. and 3:35 a.m., the Sector and District OUs discussed what was then known about the case – including the failure of the email to elicit a response and the fact that the Patriot was the only vessel on the Vessel Monitoring System whose position was not updating. The District OU at this point “recommended briefing the Chain of Command, and recommended launching aircraft;” the Sector and District OUs then “discussed the proper search object for the search patterns.” 95 At 3:34 a.m., the Sector Boston OU “woke the Command Duty Officer and asked the CDO to come to the watch floor.” 96 At 3:43 a.m., the Sector and District personnel “briefed their respective CDOs regarding the case.” 97 Between 3:50 a.m. and 3:57 a.m., a number of briefings were held throughout the Chain of Command at both the Sector and the District levels. The Memorandum indicates that when the acting Command Center Supervisor (a civilian) at the First District was briefed about the case, the Supervisor “recommended immediate launch of assets” – which was “approximately 45 minutes after the first recommendation by the D1CC (First District Command Center) to launch an aircraft.” 98 A number of assets were launched beginning at 3:57 a.m., including both air and surface assets; good Samaritan vessels also began responding to the Urgent Marine Information Broadcast and indicated that they were underway toward the Patriot’s last known position. At 4:40 a.m., a helicopter was launched from Air Station Cape Cod; launch time had been slowed to 42 minutes (12 minutes slower than the standard 30-minute launch time) due to poor weather conditions. At 4:34 a.m., the First District received an alert from a 121.5 MHz EPIRB. The helicopter launched from Station Cap Cod homed in on the EPIRB signal at 5:08 a.m.; at 5:17 a.m., the helicopter’s crew reported seeing a person in the water from whom no signs of life were seen. The body was eventually recovered by the Coast Guard Cutter Flyingfish; no pulse or
Id., at 5. Id. 94 Id., at 6. 95 Id.. 96 Id., at 7. 97 Id. 98 Id.
breath sounds were recorded and rigor mortis had begun to occur. The deceased was not wearing any type of immersion (survival) suit or life jacket. The deceased proved to be Mr. Orlando; his official cause of death was listed as “drowning, approximate interval – seconds.” 99 The second person on the Patriot, Mr. Russo, was located at 12:14 p.m.; he was also not wearing an immersion (survival) suit or life jacket. His cause of death was identical to Mr. Orlando’s cause of death. 100 According to the Memorandum, based on the facts known about the case, the Patriot likely sank between 1:17 a.m. and 1:30 a.m. – “prior to the first Coast Guard notification at 1:35 a.m.” 101 As neither victim was wearing any survival or cold weather gear and no distress signals were made, the Memorandum concludes that the Patriot likely “sank quickly with little advance warning” and the deaths likely “occurred before Station Gloucester was first informed of the firm alarm activation at 1:35 a.m.” 102 The Memorandum details the staffing at both the Sector and District Command Centers and provides some information on the qualifications of each of the individuals staffing the Command Centers. Additional information has been provided by the Coast Guard to the Subcommittee further detailing the qualification levels of the personnel in the Sector and District Command Centers during the prosecution of the Patriot case. Sector Boston Command Duty Officer: Lieutenant Junior Grade for whom the assignment at Sector Boston was the first assignment out of the Coast Guard Academy. The individual had two years of experience as a CDO; the individual had attended SAR school but had not received the SAR qualification. Operations Unit Controller: First Class Petty Officer with the OS rating who transferred to the Sector after four years at the Communications Area Master Station Atlantic (which manages day-to-day operational communications for the Coast Guard’s Atlantic Area) and had 23 months of experience as a qualified SAR OUC watchstander. Situation Unit Controller: First Class Petty Officer with the OS rating who transferred to the Sector after three years aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Rush and who had two months experience as a non-SAR SUC qualified watchstander. Communications Unit Controller: Second Class Petty Officer with OS rating who transferred to the Sector after two years aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Gallatin and who had two months of experience as a qualified communications watchstander.
Id., at 9. Id. 101 Id., at 11. 102 Id.
Commenting on the Sector Command Center’s staff, the Memorandum indicates that “the Sector Communications watchstander and the SUC had limited experience and thus limited ability to assist the Sector OUC.” 103 First District Command Duty Officer: Lieutenant Junior Grade who transferred to the First District Command Center after serving two years as a Deck Watch Officer aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Munro. This person had a number of qualifications earned concurrently, including 15 months experienced as a qualified non-SAR SUC, 11 months as a qualified OUC, and five months as a qualified CDO. Operations Unit Controller: Chief Petty Officer with the OS rating who was a reservist on active duty. This individual had been at the First District Command Center for five years of active duty time and also had a number of qualifications earned concurrently, including five years of experience as a non-SAR SUC and four years and five months of experience as a qualified OUC. Situation Unit Controller: First Class Petty Officer with the OS rating who had been at the First District Command Center for eight months, including seven months as a non-SAR qualified SUC and two months qualified as an OUC. This individual transferred to the First District Command Center after one year aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Adak; the individual also had five years of experience at Group/Sector Boston as a Communication Unit watchstander and SAR controller.
The Memorandum indicates that “[t]his case was particularly difficult to process and classify as one involving distress, or the potential for distress, because the usual indications of distress were not present until SRUs (Search and Rescue Units) arrived on scene.” 104 Importantly, the Memorandum also notes that “[u]nder Coast Guard policy, vessel fire alarm systems are not considered distress signals that would trigger an immediate launch of SAR assets.” 105 The Memorandum continues, noting that the Patriot case was a “unique and ambiguous case” comprised of individual occurrences that “could be explained away individually as a not uncommon occurrence.” 106 However, the Memorandum notes that “[i]t is just this type of case . . . which required experience to be brought to bear as soon as possible so that the potential for distress could be identified early on.” 107 The Memorandum concludes that “the Coast Guard’s response to this incident was inefficient and revealed several procedural, training, and judgment short-falls.” 108 The Memorandum also criticizes the failure to launch SAR assets until two hours and 23 minutes of “fact finding and analysis of information” had been undertaken by a variety of Coast Guard personnel located at a small boat station, Coast Guard Sector Boston, and Coast Guard First District. 109
Id., at 13. Id., at 12. 105 Id., at 4. 106 Id., at 12. 107 Id. 108 Id., at 11. 109 Id., at 1.
The Memorandum indicates that there was “inefficient information flow and processing at the Sector and Station Level, which ultimately led to a delayed launch of SRUs (search and rescue units).” 110 By the time the first asset was launched from Air Station Cape Cod, the “Sector Boston OUC had participated in approximately 20 phone calls over the previous two hours amounting to approximately one phone call every six minutes. The total time spent on these calls was 53 minutes.” 111 The Memorandum also notes that the Sector deferred to an “inexperienced watchstander at the Station Gloucester to handle the important process of interviewing a reporting source” and also “relied on the interpretation of facts from Station Gloucester personnel who had less training in SAR case prosecution.” 112 The Memorandum further states that “[t]he fact that both the Sector and District CDOs were asleep at the time of the incident may have played a role in the relatively inefficient processing and analysis of case information.” 113 By requiring the CDOs to stand a 24-hour watch that includes sleep time, “potentially, the most experienced watchstander won’t be available when time critical decisions have to be made.” The Memorandum also notes that the failure of watchstanders “to notify the CDOs or other senior members of the SAR response chain in a timely manner further contributed to launch delays.” 114 The Memorandum clearly states that the “actions and judgment exhibited by both the First District and Sector Boston CC (Command Center) watchstanders call into question the qualification and staffing procedures at both the Sector and District levels for the command center.” 115 Given the high level of concern about the qualifications of Command Center personnel, the Final Action Memorandum directs several actions to be taken specifically regarding Command Center staffing issues. The Memorandum instructs, “Atlantic Area Operations Division shall direct all Districts within Atlantic Area to determine which Sectors are operating with 24 hour watches in any Command Center position and whether CDOs are required to be SAR qualified. Once this is determined, Area Operations staff shall coordinate with District Response staffs to determine which 24 hour watch positions, if any, can be converted to 12 hour watch positions. Every effort shall be made to convert 24 hour watch positions to 12 hour watch positions where dedicated watchstander staffing permits a 42 hour workweek in accordance with the Staffing Standards Manual.” 116 According to information provided to the Subcommittee by the Coast Guard, all Districts within the Atlantic Area have now reported whether their Command Centers are staffed with CDOs, and whether they keep the 12-hour watch or the 24-hour watch. Seven Command Centers have SAR qualified CDOs standing 12-hour watches, while seven Command Centers have SARId. Id., at 7. 112 Id., at 11-12. 113 Id., at 12. 114 Id., at 13. 115 Id., at 14. 116 Id., at 15.
qualified CDOs standing 24-hour watches. According to the Coast Guard, five of the seven Command Centers in which the CDOs are standing 24-hour watches do not have adequate staffing to support 12-hour watches. The Coast Guard is in the process of evaluating the possibility of converting the other two Command Center CDO positions to the 12-hour watch. The Memorandum also instructs, “Atlantic Area Operations Division shall prepare for my approval a memorandum to Coast Guard Headquarters detailing the concerns regarding the experience level of Command Center watchstanders raised by this incident and the need to review the need for dedicated CDO billets at District and Sector Command Centers that fully meet the Command Center Manual requirements for CDOs.” It continues, “[t]he memorandum shall ask for the creation of a working group or similar mechanism to rapidly address the issue of inexperienced Command Center personnel and request the development of methods to counteract this trend.” The Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation understands that the memorandum is under development and that upon its receipt by Headquarters, a working group will be chartered to review the issue of the placement of inexperienced personnel in Command Centers. 117 VIII. Recreational Boating Safety Prior to 2003, the Coast Guard tracked the number of SAR cases that involved recreational vessels, commercial vessels, other types of vessels, and that did not involve vessels (e.g., persons in the water from sources other than vessels). From 1986 to 1999, before a change in the data collection method was made, between 9.5 percent and 15 percent of SAR cases involved commercial vessels in any given year; the vast majority of cases (between approximately 55 percent and 75 percent of cases in any given year) involved recreational vessels. The remaining cases involved other types of vessels and incidents in which no vessel was present (or in which the vessel type was not marked). Beginning in 2003, the Coast Guard has tracked only whether SAR cases involved vessels or did not involve vessels. In 2008, 67.4 percent of cases involved vessels and 32.6 percent of cases did not involve vessels. Under 46 U.S.C. § 4302, the Coast Guard is authorized to “prescribe regulations establishing minimum safety standards for recreational vessels and associated equipment.” Under 46 U.S.C. § 13102, the Coast Guard is required to “carry out a national recreational boating safety program.” As part of this program, the Coast Guard “shall make contracts with, and allocate and distribute amounts to, eligible States to assist them in developing, carrying out, and financing State recreational boating safety programs.” Funding for these grants is provided through the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund (SFRBTF). The SFRBTF receives funds from motorboat fuel taxes, the fuel tax receipts attributable to small engines used in outdoor power equipment, an excise tax on sport fishing equipment, import duties on fishing tackle, and the interest generated by these funds. The SFRBTF expends 18.5 percent of its annual receipts to fund the boating safety programs authorized under title 46. 46 U.S.C. § 13103 specifies the criteria that State boating safety programs must meet to be eligible to receive a Federal boating safety grant. Specifically, this section states that a program is eligible if it includes:
Id., at 15.
a vessel numbering system; a cooperative boating safety assistance program with the Coast Guard; sufficient patrols and other activities to ensure adequate enforcement of applicable State boating safety laws and regulations; an adequate State boating safety education program, that includes the dissemination of information concerning the hazards of operating a vessel when under the influence of alcohol or drugs; and a system for reporting marine casualties.
The States vary widely in their specific boating education requirements. According to the Coast Guard, 45 states currently require some type of boater education. Four states (Maine, Idaho, Utah, and Hawaii) require education only for some operators of personal watercraft (generally based on age). The other states have varying requirements for boater education, many of which apply based on an operator’s date of birth. Maryland, for example, requires all individuals born on or after July 1, 1972 to complete a boating education class. 33 C.F.R. 175.15 requires children under 13 years of age on a recreational vessel that is underway to wear personal flotation devices (PFD) – commonly known as life jackets – unless the children are located below decks or in an enclosed cabin. This Federal life jacket requirement took effect on December 23, 2002. Importantly, however, the Federal life jacket requirement applies only in those States that have not adopted a PFD requirement. Thus, 33 CFR 175.25 states that, “[o]n waters within the geographical boundaries of any State that has established by statute or rule a requirement under which each child must wear an appropriate PFD approved by the Coast Guard while aboard a recreational vessel, no person may use such a vessel in violation of that statute or rule.” Even in States where the State PFD requirement is less stringent than the Federal PFD requirement, the State requirement is the requirement that is enforced. IX. Recreational Boating Deaths
In 1997, there were 821 recreational boating deaths resulting among more than 8,000 accidents; there were more than 12.3 million state-registered boats in 1997. 118 In recent years, the total number of boating deaths has been in the range of 685 to 710 and the total number of boating accidents has significantly decreased. However, in recent years, the total number of recreational boating deaths has no longer shown any clear downward trend. The chart below details recreational boating casualties between 2005 and 2008.
U.S. Coast Guard, Recreational Boating Statistics 2006 (2007) at 9.
Recreational Boating Deaths Total Number of Recreational Boating Deaths 2008 709 2007 685 2006 710 2005 697 Source: U.S. Coast Guard Year Total Number of Boating Accidents 4,789 5,191 4,967 4,969 Total Number of State-Registered Boats 12,692,892 12,875,568 12,746,126 12,942,414
According to the Coast Guard’s Recreational Boating Statistics 2008, more than two-thirds of those who died in boating accidents in 2008 drowned – and 90 percent of those who drowned were not wearing a life jacket. 119 The Coast Guard also reported that only 10 percent of the recreational boating deaths that occurred in 2008 occurred on boats whose operator had completed a boating safety course. 120 In 2008, alcohol “was listed as the leading factor in 17%” of recreational boating deaths. 121 On March 31, 2009, the Coast Guard issued the “2008 Life Jacket Wear Rate Observation Study” report, which compared life jacket wear rates over the preceding decade. This Study shows that the life jacket wear rate among adult recreational boaters (excluding personal watercraft) was 11 percent in 1998 and had fallen to 8.1 percent in 2008. 122 Life jacket wear rates among recreational boaters 17 years old or younger increased from 56.4 percent in 1998 to 64.5 percent in 2008. 123 PREVIOUS COMMITTEE ACTION The Subcommittee has not held a hearing in recent years to examine the Coast Guard’s SAR mission area. On April 10, 2008, the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation convened a hearing entitled “Cosco Busan and Marine Casualty Investigation Program.” During that hearing, the Subcommittee met to receive a report from the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General (DHS IG) entitled “Allision of the M/V COSCO BUSAN with the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.” This report was completed pursuant to a request made by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Subcommittee Chairman Elijah E. Cummings on December 4, 2007. The DHS IG was very critical of the Coast Guard’s investigation of this marine casualty. The DHS IG found that five of the six individuals assigned to marine casualty investigator billets were not qualified for those positions; all three of the individuals who responded to the Cosco Busan were not qualified as marine casualty investigators. Likely as a result of inadequate training and
U.S. Coast Guard, Recreational Boating Statistics 2008 (2009), at 6. Id. 121 Id. 122 U.S. Coast Guard, 2008 Life Jacket Wear Rate Observation Study (2009), at 5. 123 Id., at 6.
experience – and the use of inadequate manuals – the investigators who responded to the Cosco Busan failed to identify, collect, and secure perishable evidence related to this casualty. Additionally, the Coast Guard incorrectly classified the investigation of the Cosco Busan casualty as an informal investigation rather than a formal investigation. On May 20, 2008, the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation met to receive a report from the office of DHS IG entitled “United States Coast Guard’s Management of the Marine Casualty Investigation Program” (OIG-08-51, May 2008). The Subcommittee also received testimony from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the Coast Guard regarding which agency should exercise primacy in the conduct of marine casualty investigations. The DHS IG’s office testified that its examination of the Coast Guard’s marine safety program had found that there were significant deficiencies in the operations of the program. Specifically, DHS IG stated that the Coast Guard’s marine casualty investigation program is “hindered by unqualified personnel,” by “investigations conducted at inappropriate levels,” and by “ineffective management of a substantial backlog of investigations needing review and closure.” WITNESSES Rear Admiral Sally Brice-O’Hara Deputy Commandant for Operations U.S. Coast Guard
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